Columns

Finding the true meaning of Dyngus

Sightseeing is thirsty business. After exploring the Christmas Story House and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last month, we stopped for refreshment at the Tremont Tap House.

Our friendly server asked where we were from and when I said Washington, she asked, “The one by Canada?”

Once we were clear on geography and had our beverages, she asked if we’d be in Cleveland for Dyngus Day.

Now, when I was a kid “dingus” was synonymous with dingbat, dumbbell, doofus, and other not so nice words. Who knew there was a special day set aside to celebrate the dim bulbs among us?

Our waitress quickly disabused me of that notion.

“Dyngus Day is also called Wet Monday,” she explained. “It’s the day after Easter. There’s a parade and polkas and pierogis.”

She grabbed a guidebook off the counter.

“You can read all about it,” she said. “It’s a hoot. We throw water on each other and hit people with pussy willow branches.”

I love a good polka as much as anyone, but having water thrown on me, and being smacked by shrubbery isn’t what I consider a “hoot.”

Alas, I didn’t have opportunity to experience the delight of Dyngus because we flew home just before the holiday.

My curiosity was piqued, though, so this weekend I sat down and perused the booklet describing Cleveland’s biggest polka party. And then I delved deeper into the Dyngus.

First of all we were wrong to use the word as a childhood slur because loosely translated it actually means worthy, proper or suitable.

Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent and the joy of Easter. It dates back to the baptism of Prince Mieszko I on Easter Monday in 966 A.D. The water symbolized purification, hence “Wet Monday.”

Cleveland is just one of many cities throughout the U.S. that hosts parties and parades in honor of Easter Monday. The largest celebration is in Buffalo, New York, where a local paper once proclaimed, “Everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day!”

Traditions abound, including wearing red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. But perhaps the most well-known Dyngus Day tradition is that in which single boys try to splash water on single girls as an expression of interest. Rooting from the baptism of the prince, the water represents cleansing, purification and fertility.

Men and women can also flirt with pussy willows, which are among the first plants to bud in the spring. The young men may lightly hit women on their legs to show they are interested.

That’s why my Cleveland guide lists the following as Dyngus Day essential items; pussy willows, squirt guns and polka pants.

Apparently, squirt gun fights and pussy willow whacks add up to a really good time.

Not everyone has been a fan of the celebration. The Bishop of Pozan’ tried to derail Dyngus Day in 1410. He forbade it, instructing residents not to “pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus.”

Obviously, the prohibition didn’t stick. Probably because other activities include sampling Polish foods like pierogis, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage and drinking pints of piwo (beer).

Polka music is the heart and soul of the party, which means roving accordion bands and plenty of room for dancing.

In Cleveland the celebration culminates with the crowning of Miss Dyngus Day, followed by a parade featuring the “Frankie Yankovic accordion head float.”

I cannot believe we missed an ACCORDION HEAD FLOAT.

Which leaves me to wonder if Spokane has a large enough Polish community to pull of our own party and parade?

In any case, I’ve already planned our next trip to Ohio. I’m practicing my polka because we’ll be back on April 29, 2019 – Dyngus Day.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

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War Bonds

Patriotism on Parade

In 2010, I accompanied a group of Pearl Harbor Survivors during an annual Armed Forces parade in my hometown. The reaction of the crowd to this small group of heros showed me just how much Americans value the men and women who served our country during WWII and solidified my desire to write War Bonds.

Here’s the column I wrote about that event. Ray, Cindy and DenisRay Daves, Cindy Hval and Denis Mikkelsen

When I received an invitation to appear in this year’s Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, I had mixed feelings. My only previous parade experience hadn’t gone well.

In seventh grade I rode on our church youth group’s float in Moses Lake. The theme? Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I had a major crush on the guy chosen to be Daniel, so I agreed to ride on the float. I pictured myself as one of the angels sent by God to shut the lions’ mouths. Instead, they made me a lion, complete with furry suit and painted-on whiskers. My mane was made of cardboard, and I kept poking my fellow feline’s eyes with every turn of my head.

Did you know Moses Lake gets very warm in the spring? I sizzled and sweated through the parade and my black whiskers ran like polluted rain down my cheeks. Then I started sneezing. The “den” was made out of hay bales, those being plentiful in Moses Lake. That’s how I found out I’m allergic to hay. By the end of the parade my eyes were swollen shut, and “Daniel” hadn’t even noticed me growling at his feet.

However, the Torchlight parade would be different. The theme was “Freedom is not Free,” and instead of a float made of hay bales I’d been ask to accompany the Pearl Harbor survivors on a military truck. I’ve written several stories about these incredible folks over the years, and they’ve kind of adopted me. I was so honored by the invitation, I would have said yes even if they wanted me to wear a lion costume.

So on parade day, I boarded the truck with five Pearl Harbor survivors ranging in age from 86 to 93. Among them: Warren and Betty Schott, who were both on Ford Island when the bombs began to fall.

Denis Mikkelsen who was sleeping aboard the USS West Virginia and woke to the sound of chaos. When the order came to abandon ship he dived into the harbor.

Sid Kennedy at the Naval Air Station Kaneohe, watched the planes swoop in. “Look at the show the Army’s putting on,” he’d said. Then he saw the red circles on the aircrafts’ wings.

And Ray Daves was on his way to breakfast when he looked up to see the first bomb hit Ford Island. He prayed, “God, don’t let it get my friend, Jim.”

The memories of Dec. 7, 1941, are seared into the minds of this small band of survivors. Each year their number dwindles, yet those who are able agree to appear in the parade, not for cheers or accolades, but to honor the thousands of Americans who did not survive the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joining us on the truck were the survivor’s family escorts and Jean Flechel, widow of a Pearl Harbor survivor. The sun warmed us as we waited for the start of the parade and at last we began our slow trek through city streets.

Much has been said and written about the decline of patriotism in America and how younger generations don’t seem to honor the flag and our country the way our forebears did.

This may be true, but it certainly wasn’t what I observed that night. Almost without exception men, women and children leapt to their feet as our truck went by. Teenage boys took off their ball caps, men saluted or put their hands over their hearts and the applause was deafening. Amid the clapping I heard shouts of, “God bless you!” and “We love you,” but mostly what I heard were these words shouted over and over again: “Thank you! Thank you for your service.”

I heard teenage girls scream as if Justin Bieber was in town. I watched grown men weep and small children wave and clap while others stood somberly at attention as the truck passed.

Some may believe our country has lost its way and its citizens no longer value the tenets upon which our nation was built. But what I experienced in the company of American heroes that night, filled me with hope.

Maybe we haven’t forgotten what is most important, after all.